Some of these are hopefully no-brainers, others may be head-scratchers. All of them are albums that deserve a fresh appraisal. Let me know what I missed (and got wrong) in the comments section.
10. Kiss: Dynasty (1979)
Okay, let’s get this one out of the way right up front. It’s not necessarily that this album is better than average (it’s not), it’s that so many members of the Kiss Army—not to mention normal people who understand, and accept, that Gene Simmons wears a toupee today and likely wore a wig then—think it sucks (it doesn’t). More than a few folks point to this as the nadir of the original band’s output. It might be, actually, but that still does not mean it sucks. Yes, it has the made-for-radio, inspired by disco (!) debacle “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”, a title so insipid, uninspired and calculated it could not possibly be tolerable on principle. There are a lot of other stinkers on this set, particularly the one contribution from Peter Criss, a cat who went from being a drummer who sometimes did drugs to a druggie who sometimes played drums. In fact, the same guy who played on Ace Frehley’s 1978 solo album (and who would later gain fame as the drummer in David Letterman’s late night all-star band), Anton Fig, provided most of the drumming on this one. How embarrassing (for Criss; for the band).
Speaking of that Ace Frehley solo album: what a revelation. The space cadet who played the (often excellent) solos and was usually too self-conscious to sing suddenly came into his own. His effort is, arguably, the most cohesive Kiss-related album since Destroyer. True, Rock and Roll Over and Love Gun had the hits and put them over the top commercially, but they were also overly produced and oddly sterile (compare virtually any of those songs with how much better they sound on Kiss Alive II). For whatever reason, whether it was fatigue, chemicals or lack of inspiration, Frehley briefly emerged as the unquestionable creative force in the band. His solo album was so much better than the others’ it seems unfair, even inappropriate, to compare them, and on Dynasty he is practically holding the act together himself. That he could not hold his own act together much longer is as unfortunate as it was inevitable (if you find that to be a harsh or inaccurate assessment, listen to the lyrics on the solo set—or just consider some of the song titles: “Snowblind”, “Ozone”, “Wiped Out”).
Frehley’s two original contributions, “Hard Times” and “Save Your Love” rock as hard as anything Kiss ever did, and his guitar playing throughout is assured and intense. Even though this album has questionable material from Stanley and Simmons, like “X-Ray Eyes” and “Sure Know Something”, those gents also acquit themselves tolerably well with “Charisma” and “Magic Touch”. Yes, “Magic Touch” is probably a song that makes even hardcore Kiss fans feel a bit faint (in a bad way), yet it’s almost disgustingly irresistible. And Ace’s solo is ridiculous (in a good way). Last, but not least, there is the Stones’ cover, “2000 Man”. First off, having the balls to cover an obscure Stones song warrants Frehley serious props, and the fact that he pulls off a much-better-than-respectable (and, importantly, not paint-by-numbers) interpretation was impressive, then, and remains righteous, now. The other members may have already been phoning it in by this point, but Ace had a few more tricks up his sleeve and Dynasty should, if nothing else, be celebrated as the last time he looked down at the rest of the world.
9. The Rolling Stones: Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967)
Stupid title. Silly cover. Blatant attempt to steal some thunder from The Beatles, who were possibly at the height of their critical and commercial influence following Sgt. Pepper. So what? The fact of the matter is that this is far from a failure, no matter how many people want to slag off this lesser Stones album. Perhaps time was on its side, or there has been some retribution, equal parts ironic and inevitable, which has seen Sgt. Pepper taken down a few pegs, while there isn’t quite as much venom spewed about Satanic. This was certainly not the Stones effort that spilled over with hits (again, so what?) but taken one by one, there is much to like—or at least defend—in lesser-known tunes like “Gomper”, “The Lantern” and “Citadel” (think Iggy Pop listened to that one a few thousand times?).
And then there are the winners: “She’s a Rainbow” (which gleefully rips off Arthur Lee and Love’s “She Comes in Colors” more than it does anything from Sgt. Pepper) and the band’s unique, convincing and corny stab at psychedelia, “2000 Light Years From Home”. And then the masterpiece that inexplicably brings together both Kiss and Wes Anderson: “2000 Man”. It may not be “A Day in the Life” but if you had to listen to one song once a day for the rest of your life, which one would you pick? I know which one I’d go with (and my kids, they just don’t understand me at all).
The historic import of this one is not inconsiderable, either: up until now The Stones were forever in the Fab Four’s shadow, enjoying (or being consigned to) being bad guys and competing as best they could. This was the last time they played the underdog role and beginning with Beggars Banquet their albums were never compared unfavorably with The Beatles’, or anyone else’s for that matter. On this album, even though it sounded very little like Sgt. Pepper, imitation was still the sincerest form of flattery. Its ostensible failure likely caused the band to realize that the rules they had been following were largely self-imposed, and once they got outside that box nobody could stand in their way. They took their lumps, upped the ante and then gleefully kicked every other act out of the way.
// Notes from the Road
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